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GORILLA TREKKING IN UGANDA, RWANDA & CONGO

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda-Rwanda Congo

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda-Rwanda Congo

WHAT IS GORILLA TREKKING?

Gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda, Congo is an outdoor activity that involves hours of hiking through steep and dense rainforest jungles of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in search of habituated families of Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) or Congo’s Eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri), the world’s largest living primates.

Gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo starts at 8.00 am with a briefing on safety and gorilla trekking rules. After the gorilla trekking briefing, you are allocated a gorilla family to trek and placed in a group of 8 people. You then transfer to the start of the gorilla trekking trail to begin the actual trek. You trek behind an expert local ranger guide who slashes a path through the foliage with a machete. The duration of a trek for these Africa’s great apes depends on the location of the gorilla family you’re heading to, but can take from 2-6 hours.

Once you reach your designated family, you’re allowed an hour, maximum with the gorillas. The gorilla trek is relatively tiresome as the forest can be quite wet and the going fairly steep. But the reward of meeting, watching, and spending time face-to-face with the world’s last remaining wild gorillas as you witness them expressing typically human gestures and emotions is arguably one of life’s greatest privileges.

Often visitors who undertake Rwanda gorilla safaris, Uganda gorilla safaris, and Congo gorilla safaris to spend a magical moment with the gentle giants describe a life-changing experience. You watch the adults forage and groom each other while baby gorillas tumble and play under a watchful gaze of a giant 200kg silverback patriarch, whose soft brown eyes constantly sweep over his family protectively. After your one-hour encounter with the gorilla, you transfer back to the starting point for debriefing, and you are awarded your gorilla trekking certificate.

WHERE TO GO GORILLA TREKKING? BEST PLACES TO TREK AND SEE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS IN UGANDA, RWANDA & CONGO

Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo are the best places where you can go gorilla trekking to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. These three beautiful countries host the entire 1,063 world’s population of Mountain gorillas which cannot be encountered in captivity or any other place on Earth. Also, DR Congo is the only place in the whole world where you can see the Eastern lowland gorillas during your gorilla safari in Africa.

BEST PLACES TO TREK AND SEE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS IN UGANDA

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are the two best places to trek and see gorillas during your Uganda gorilla safari or Uganda gorilla trekking tour.

  1. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – also called ‘The Place of Darkness’ due to its dense treetops – is the best place to go gorilla trekking in Uganda. The 321km2 park is located in the southwest of the country with an altitude that ranges from 1,160m to 2,607m above sea level.

Bwindi Impenetrable is ancient tropical rainforest hosting almost half of the world’s mountain gorilla population. As befits one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, Bwindi has been designated a Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Alongside over 459 mountain gorillas that live here, the park protects over 120 mammal species, 11 species of primates, 350 bird species, 220 species of butterflies, and 60 tree species, many of them endemic to this part of Africa.

Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Forest Impenetrable National Park

Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is done in the park’s four sectors, named after the surrounding villages:

  • Buhoma sector in the north,
  • Rushaga sector in the south
  • Ruhija sector in the east, and
  • Nkuringo sector in the west

Each of the four sectors function as a self-standing gorilla trekking destination, has its own habituated gorilla family groups, its own set of accommodation options, a variety of tourist attractions, and is reached by a different approach road from the other location.

Gorilla Families in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda

There are 19 habituates gorilla families in Bwindi that are open for Uganda gorilla trekking tours. Bwindi is also home to 1 semi-habituated for Gorilla Habituation Experience.

Gorilla Families in Buhoma Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National

  • Mubare Gorilla Family
  • Habinyanja Gorilla Family
  • Rushegura Gorilla Family
  • Katwe Gorilla Family
  • Binyido Gorilla Family

Gorilla Families in Rushaga Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National

  • Kahungye Gorilla Family
  • Bweza Gorilla Family
  • Busingye Gorilla Family
  • Bikingi Gorilla Family (Semi-habituated)
  • Mishaya Gorilla Family
  • Nshongi Gorilla Family
  • Kutu Gorilla Family
  • Mucunguzi Gorilla Family

Gorilla Families in Ruhija Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National

  • Bitukura Gorilla Family
  • Oruzogo Gorilla Family
  • Kyaguliro Gorilla Family
  • Mukiza Gorilla Family

Gorilla Families in the Nkuringo Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National

  • Nkuringo Gorilla Family
  • Bushaho Gorilla Family
  • Christmas Gorilla Family

OTHER ACTIVITIES YOU DO IN BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK BEFORE OR AFTER GORILLA TREKKING

  • Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Gorilla habituation is a slow and gentle process where wild gorillas are trained to get used to human presence as a way of preparing them for gorilla trekking tourism, research, and other purposes. The process takes about 2-3 years and it is carried out by a team of researchers, trackers, conservationists, and park rangers. In Bwindi, visitors are now able to take part in this process via gorilla habituation experience so that gorillas get used to new faces, white skin, and cameras.

The unique Uganda gorilla habituation experience is offered only in the Rushaga sector of Bwindi and currently, one gorilla family called Bikyingi is available for this experience. Only 4 tourists are permitted to visit the gorilla group under habituation. Unlike the normal gorilla trek where you are allowed 1 hour with the gorillas, this special activity offers you a 4 hours encounter with these charismatic apes hence providing a great chance to learn more about them.

Gorilla habituation experience raises the cost of your Uganda gorilla safari since the permit costs USD 1500 compare to a gorilla trekking permit which costs USD 700, but values-wise you get a lot more in return; 4- Hours with a Gorilla Family, fewer participants, and a more significant learning experience is what you get.

  • Birding in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is also alive with birdsong has been named as one of the top 10 birding destinations in Africa by the African Birding Club. The diverse habitats of this Uganda’s most ancient rainforest host more than 350 species including  23 Albertine Rift endemics such as African green broadbill, Handsome Francolin, Shelly’s Crimsonwing, Dusky Crimsonwing, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori Apalis, Rwenzori nightjar, Rwenzori double-collared sunbird, Purple breasted sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Blue-headed Sunbird, Grauer’s swamp warbler and much more. Birding is mainly done in Buhoma and Ruhija sectors.

  • Hiking/Nature walks in Bwindi National Park

Bwindi forest walks provide more relaxed opportunities to explore this Uganda’s loveliest rainforest. As you hike through the impenetrable forest, you will get chances of seeing unique primate species like the L’Hoest’s, blue, red-tailed, and black-and-white colobus monkeys. You come across beautiful butterflies, various tree species, and you will also have clear views of bird species singing in the air.

  • Cultural visits and community walks around Bwindi

After or even before you Uganda gorilla trek in Bwindi, you explore the villages around to learn about local cultures and the way of life of the people around. You can undertake an exciting 3-hour stroll around the Buhoma sector to immerse yourself in the customs and practices of the Bakiga and Batwa people. This tour takes on varied activities such as farming, brewing local beer, dispensing traditional medicines, and concludes with dancing displays by members of the Batwa pygmy community.

 

  • Visit the magical Lake Bunyonyi

After your Uganda gorilla trekking tour in Bwindi, you can visit Lake Bunyonyi, for relaxation and recreation. This stunning lake is the second deepest in Africa, featuring a count of 29 Islands and surrounded by a range of fascinating Kigezi hills.

You can take up a boat ride for sightseeing on the lake or take up a canoe paddle enjoying the tranquil waters as you view the myriad of Islands appearing in all directions. You can then take up an Island walk visiting the Batwa Pygmies one of the last groups of short people in the world noted to be endangered for cultural and heritage experience.

  1. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Compared to Bwindi, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a relatively small national park covering an area of 33.7 square kilometers. Mgahinga is also located in southwestern Uganda with an altitude that ranges between 2,227 and 4,127metres above sea level. The park is situated in the scenic Virunga Mountains, a chain of 8 free-standing volcanic cones that straddle the border of Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC. Three of them – Mount Gahinga (3,474m), Mount Muhabura (4,127m), and Mount Sabyinyo (3,669m) are situated in the park.

Mgahinga is home to one habituated gorilla group which is called the Nyakagezi gorilla family. It is a well-protected and monitored reserve full of unique forest birds and monkeys including the endemic Golden Monkeys.  As well as being important for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivaled.

OTHER ACTIVITIES TO DO IN MGAHINGA GORILLA NATIONAL PARK BEFORE OR AFTER GORILLA TREKKING

  • Golden monkey tracking in Mgahinga Gorilla Park

In addition to the Uganda gorilla trekking experience, Mgahinga offers an opportunity to the traveler a gorilla safari in Uganda to track the beautiful golden monkeys, Cercopithecus kandti, which are endemic to the Albertine Rift. These fast-moving little creatures live in social groups of up to 100 individuals and they are very entertaining as they constantly swing through the bamboo or chase each other in circles all around you. They’re also very pretty, with shiny reddish-gold backs that blend in perfectly with the golden bamboo

  • Volcano climbing/hiking in Mgahinga

Guided day hikes to Mgahinga National Park’s volcanic cone peaks can also be undertaken by visitors on Uganda gorilla tours. The most popular climb is the strenuous ascent from Ntebeko Gate to Mount Sabinyo, a hike that culminates in 3 challenging ladder climb up rock faces that will sorely test anyone with a poor head for heights, before summiting at the three-way border with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • Batwa Heritage Trail Experience in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga also offers you a unique Batwa Trail Cultural Experience that takes through the heritage of a hunter-gatherer tribe who for generations depended on the forest for shelter, food, and medicine. The trail is led by a local Twa guide, who explains how they used to live in the forest before being ousted when it became a national park.

You follow lower slopes of Virunga as Twa guide demonstrates several traditional practical skills such as lighting fire by rubbing sticks together, bivouac building that they lived in, hunting and trapping techniques, target practice with a bow and arrow, and how to fetch water in a bamboo cup.

You learn about food gathering; nutritious leaves, plants, berries that are found in the forest that you might not even notice. Also, you learn about the plants, roots, herbs, bark from trees that the Batwa have used as medicine for centuries. (You see plants. The Batwa people see a pharmacy).  The trail ends inside 342m long Garama Cave where a group of women in the darkness sing and acts out a song of sadness about the loss of their beloved forest and their desire to return to what is now a national park.

  • Birding in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga is also a great destination for Uganda birding tours hosting over 200 bird species. Of particular interest to birders in search of Albertine Rift Endemics including the handsome francolin, Kivu ground thrush, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori batis, dusky, and Shelly’s Crimsonwing, and regal, blue-headed, and Rwenzori double-collard sunbird.

BEST PLACE TO TREK AND SEE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS IN RWANDA.

VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

What is gorilla trekking?Volcanoes National Park is the best place to trek and see mountain gorillas during the Rwanda gorilla trekking tour. In fact, gorilla trekking in Rwanda is only done in Volcanoes since all the country’s habituated gorillas reside here. Volcanoes are the most accessible destination for gorilla trekking tours. It is situated only 80 kilometers – about a 3-hour drive from Kigali International Airport.

This stunning park covers an area of 160 square kilometers of the prime rainforest within Virunga Volcanoes and encompasses 5 of them: Mount Karisimbi (4,507m), Mount Muhabura (4,127m), Mount Bisoke (3,711 m), Mount Sabyinyo (3,669m), and Mount Gahinga (3,474m). Volcanoes National Park was the base for pioneering primatologist Dian Fossey, which makes it authentic ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ destination. The park is also home to the endemic golden monkeys and a variety of birds.

Gorilla Families in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

Volcanoes National Park is home to 12 habituated gorilla families and all Rwanda gorilla treks in Volcanoes start from one gorilla trekking trailhead called Kinigi. Below are the gorilla groups you can visit during your gorilla tours in Rwanda;

  1. Susa Gorilla Family or Susa A
  2. Karisimbi Gorilla Family or Susa B
  3. Amahoro Gorilla Family
  4. Umubano Gorilla Group
  5. Sabyinyo Gorilla Family
  6. Agashya Gorilla Group or Group 13
  7. Kwitonda Gorilla Family
  8. Hirwa Gorilla Group
  9. Ugenda gorilla Family
  10. Bwenge Gorilla Family
  11. Muhoza Gorilla Family
  12. Igisha Gorilla Family

OTHER ACTIVITIES TO DO IN VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK BEFORE OR AFTER GORILLA TREKKING

  • Golden Monkey Tracking in Volcanoes National Park

These little-known fast-moving primates, Cercopithecus kandti, are a subspecies of the Blue Monkey and lives in social groups of up to 100 individuals.  There two habituated golden monkey groups in Volcanoes which can be tracked, one on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi and the other in the bamboo forest on Mount Sabyinyo. This is also a standalone excursion, departing from the Kinigi headquarters once each day.

Please note that you may not get as close to them as you may to the mountain gorillas, but their antics are fun to watch and the bamboo forests, which they inhabit, are an interesting environment. They’re also very pretty, with shiny reddish-gold backs that blend in perfectly with the golden bamboo. Golden monkeys are tracked in a group of 8 people. The trek takes

  • Dian Fossey’s Tomb Hike in Volcanoes National Park

Dian Fossey is famous for her research on mountain gorillas. First visiting Rwanda in 1963, she went on to study them for over 18 years, becoming a leading authority on their physiology and behavior. Through her research, she raised awareness of their vulnerability and promoted conservation initiatives, including setting up the Karisoke Research Foundation.

Dian Fossey did not enjoy universal popularity, and she made many enemies amongst local Rwandan’s, including poachers and those who wished to convert the gorillas’ habitat to farmland. Tragically she was found murdered at her research station in 1985, however, her legacy lives on and her work continues through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. She is buried on the slopes of Mt Karisimbi.

Before or after your Rwanda gorilla safari, you can explore where Fossey was buried along with her gorilla friends including her favorite whom she called ‘Digit’. The hike passes through dense bamboo and Hagenia forest en route and, if you are lucky, you may spot golden monkeys jumping through the trees. The hike takes around 3-4 hours.

  • Volcano Hiking/Climbing in Volcanoes National Park

You also have a chance in Volcanoes National Park to scale one of its five dormant volcanoes. You can climb Mount Karisimbi which is the highest of the 8 Virunga volcanoes and the 6th highest mountain in Africa rising to 4,507 meters. You can hike Mount Bisoke, Mount Gahinga and Muhabura.

One of the best parts of climbing and trekking these magnificent volcanoes is that you will be awarded ample opportunities to view wildlife including gorillas, golden monkeys, bushbucks, and black-fronted duikers and buffaloes. Also, expect to see birds such as turacos, francolins, sunbirds, waxbills, crimson-wings, and various hawks and buzzards plus a variety of unique plant species.

  • Visit Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village Near Volcanoes

During your Rwanda gorilla trekking tour to Volcanoes, you can visit the Iby’iwacu cultural village now known as the Gorilla guardian’s village to discover the culture and lifestyle of the Rwandan people. The culture started as a response to gorilla poaching which was carried out by some members of the community. While here, you have an opportunity to talk to the ex-gorilla poachers that have rejected their former way of life. You discover the traditional house of a local king, watch a medicine man prepare herbal mixtures, try your hand at bow and arrow shooting, or listening to the drums of Africa.

  • Hike Musanze Caves Near Volcanoes National Park

Located at the foothills of Volcanoes National Park, the caves offer a peek into the geological history of the region, which was created by intense volcanic activity that formed the Albertine Rift Valley some 65 million years ago. Extending for a length of two kilometers and relatively easy to hike, the underground caverns provide guests with a profound understanding of the origins of the area.

BEST PLACES TO TREK AND SEE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Virunga National Park is the best place to trek and see gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mountain gorilla trekking in Congo is offered in Virunga National Park. Congo gorilla safaris also offer encounters with the Eastern lowland gorillas or Grauer’s gorillas which reside in Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Maiko National Park but only trekked in Kahuzi-Biega.

  1. 1. VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated in the Virunga volcanoes and encompasses 3 of them: – the dormant Mount Mikeno volcano, the active Mount Nyamuragira, and Mount Nyiragongo (which is one of the world’s most dangerous active volcanos) last erupted on 22nd May 2021 – Read more about the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo Volcano 2021. Hiking Mount Nyiragongo is one of the most exciting things you can do in Africa.

Covering an area of about 8,090km², this wonderful park also encompasses part of Africa’s highest Mountain range, the 5109m-high Rwenzori Mountains that boasts permanent glacier and snow on its peaks. It is Africa’s oldest National Park set aside in 1925 and easily the most biodiverse national park on the continent, if not in the whole world.

Over 706 bird species and 216 mammal species have been recorded in the park including Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Forest elephants, Savannah elephants, Cape buffalos, Forest buffaloes, Lions, Leopards, and 21 species of monkeys including the endangered golden monkeys.

Gorilla families in Virunga National Park Congo

There are 10 habituated gorilla families Virunga National Park you can trek during your gorilla safari in Congo;

  • Rugendo gorilla family
  • Humba gorilla family
  • Munyaga Gorilla group
  • Mapuwa gorilla family
  • Lulengo gorilla family
  • Kabirizi gorilla family
  • Bageni gorilla family
  • Nyakamwe gorilla family
  • Baraka gorilla family
  • Wilungula gorilla family

OTHER ACTIVITIES TO DO IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK BEFORE OR AFTER GORILLA TREKKING

  • Climbing/Hiking Mount Nyiragongo in Virunga National Park

Mount Nyiragongo is a striking stratovolcano featuring the largest lava lake in the world. It is also one of the world’s most dangerous active volcanoes last erupted in 2021. This beautiful volcano stands over 3,470 meters above sea level and is the hottest mountaineering destination in Africa. Hiking to its top to stare down into a bubbling lava lake in the massive crater below is indeed an experience of a lifetime. It will not only test your fitness level but will also leave you with strong memories of your African gorilla safaris in Congo. The average climbing time is between 4 and 6 hours, with the descent of the volcano taking around 4 hours.

  • Chimpanzee Tracking in Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park also offers opportunities for chimpanzee trekking safaris in Congo near the park headquarters at Rumangabo. Unlike the gorillas, chimp trekking starts much earlier in the morning to have better chances of seeing them as they start the day before they scatter in search of food especially fruits which they enjoy immensely.

  • Bird Watching in Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park offers visitors a birding tour in Congo a checklist of 708 bird species. Several bird sightings are found in the park’s varied vegetation, mountainous areas, swamps, rainforests, and other landscapes. Rare birds of the park include Rockefeller’s sunbird and Nectarinia Rockefeller found in the bamboo, the Grauer’s swamp warbler, and shoebill storks.

The park’s southern sector host about 20 bird species which are endemic to the Albertine rift including the Rwenzori batis, Archer’s ground robins, Rwenzori turacos, Red-throated athlete, Rwenzori Double-collared sunbirds, Dusky and Shelley’s Crimsonwing, Kivu ground thrush, Collared Apalis, Mountain masked Apalis, Blue-headed sunbirds, Regal sunbirds,  and Strange weavers.

  • Visiting Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage

Visitors on a Virunga National Park gorilla trek can also undertake a tour to Senkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage Center. It is the only mountain gorilla orphanage center in the whole world. This center was established in 2010 to help in taking care of orphaned gorillas that were rescued from poachers. It is named after one of the silverbacks that were killed in 2007. The orphanage is located in Rumangabo near the park headquarters and Mikeno lodge.

Senkwekwe orphanage center started with 2 orphan gorillas Ndakasi and Ndeze. Today, the number has increased to about 6 gorillas; Ndeze, Ndakasi, Kaboko, Yalala, Matabishi. They have been habituated and a visit to the orphanage is an extraordinary part of the safari. Access to the Orphanage is free.

  1. Kahuzi-Biega National Park

Covering an area of 6000km2 Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the eastern DR Congo is the best place for lowland gorilla trekking safaris in Congo. This UNESCO Natural World Heritage site and the only place on Earth where the wild Eastern lowland Gorillas, the biggest gorillas in the world live. These great apes are capable of weighing up to 250kg. They are believed to number around 5,000. About 12 eastern lowland gorilla families live in Kahuzi-Biega National Park and 3 of them have been habituated for gorilla trekking;

  • Chimanuka gorilla family
  • Mpungwe gorilla family
  • Bonane gorilla family

OTHER ACTIVITIES TO DO IN KAHUZI-BIEGA NATIONAL PARK BEFORE OR AFTER GORILLA TREKKING

  • Mountain Climbing in Kahuzi-Biega National Park

While on your lowland gorilla trekking tour in Congo’s Kahuzi Biega National Park, mountain climbing is another activity that will give you an exceptional experience. The park features two extinct volcanoes where travelers enjoy hiking experiences in the jungle.  This Congo adventure safari activity offers incredible scenic views to Bukavu town, Lake Kivu among other beautiful views of the tropical rainforests of Kahuzi Biega.

  • Visiting Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Centre at Kahuzi-Biega

As you are looking for an activity to do after your gorilla trekking in Congo, you can visit Lwiro Rehabilitation Center. Located close to the park headquarters a visit to the sanctuary can be easily combined with a Congo gorilla trek.  The sanctuary is home to 92 chimps and 108 monkeys of 13 different species are kept in excellent conditions. These primates have been rescued from poaching. The sanctuary allows travelers while on their gorilla safaris in Congo to encounter a lot of primates as well as participating in the conservation practice of the touched primates.

  • Cultural tours around Kahuzi-Biega National Park

After your Congo lowland gorilla trekking adventure in Kahuzi-Biega, you also explore the daily life of the local people in Bukavu city through village walks. You can also visit the Royal court of the Kingdom of Kabare the most powerful kingdom south of Kivu. Here the traveler can learn about its traditions and secrets, and can also spend time with the Mwami’s wise men who will present some of the objects of symbolic importance to the court. Visits will finish with an enthusiastic Ntole dance performed by the Bushi villagers.

Bordering the park is the cinchona and tea plantations of Mbayo. Visits can also be taken to this area to learn about the history of cinchona cultivation in DR Congo, including its collapse due to disease and its current slow recovery. Brave (or foolhardy) visitors may accept to chew on some of the cinchona bark.

WHY GO MOUNTAIN GORILLA TREKKING IN UGANDA, RWANDA & CONGO? / BENEFITS OF GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA, UGANDA, & CONGO

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo is a profound wildlife watching experience and one that tops many travelers’ bucket lists – with good reasons;

  1. Mountain Gorillas Are So Rare and You Can’t See Them in Zoos

So rare are the mountain gorillas that they can only survive in the wild. These great apes are among the most endangered primates in the world with about 1,063 in existence which makes a gorilla safari to Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo to see to the rare mountain gorillas in their natural habitat a-once-in-a-lifetime journey.

  1. Mountain Gorillas Are Among Our Closest Living Genetic Relatives

A big part of what makes the gorilla trek in Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo so special is that these big apes are so closely related to humans (the difference in DNA is only about 1.6%). And aside from the DNA, it is hard not to find gorillas eerily similar to humans by just staring face to face with them. They live in family groups and gorilla mothers take very good care of their babies. Each gorilla family is led by one giant Silverback male.

Gorillas are also extremely intelligent primates and communicate with each other through vocalizations like grunts and barks. They are capable of feeling emotions like we do. Witnessing these great apes expressing typically human gestures and emotions, a truly profound experience and one of the reasons that gorilla trekking is such a life-changing adventure.

  1. Gorillas Are the Largest, Most Powerful, And Impressive Primates on Earth

Gorillas are the strongest and largest primates on earth, almost 3 times as bulky as an average man. Despite their immense size, strength, and fearsome appearance, mountain gorillas are remarkably peaceful creatures. More impressive even than their great size is their unfathomable attitude to people, which greatly differs from that of any other wild animal you know.  This makes a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo to encounter these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat the most intimate wildlife encounters you can have in Africa, if not the world.

  1. Gorilla Trekking is a Great Chance to Taste Your Physical Fitness

Mountain gorilla trekking destinations of Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC have challenging terrains. The trek to see our giant cousins usually involves hours of navigating uphill and downhill through dense forest with thick tangles of vines, roots, and muddy areas. It is relatively difficult, but a face-to-face encounter with the majestic mountain gorillas will gift you with soul-stirring memories that will stay etched in your mind forever.

  1. Gorilla Trekking Contribute To The Protection Of These Endangered Creatures

Anyone visiting a gorilla perk for a gorilla trekking tour is by definition, ensuring the survival of these endangered primates. If you, for example, buy a Uganda gorilla trekking permit, you not only buying a once in a lifetime encounter with charismatic apes, you’re providing the economic incentive for the protection of the endangered mountain gorillas. Without gorilla tourism, mountain gorillas might have gone extinct.

Many scouts, who were once poachers of gorillas and other primates, are now their protectors and earn their livelihoods safeguarding what they once killed. It’s a conservation success story and continued gorilla trekking tourism is vital to the species’ continued existence.

PREPARATION FOR A GORILLA TREK TOUR IN UGANDA, CONGO & RWANDA

  1. Book a Gorilla Permit

If you want to undertake a Uganda gorilla trekking safari, a Rwanda gorilla trekking safari, or a Congo gorilla trekking trip, you will need to book a gorilla permit. The gorilla permit is a document/card issued by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), or Virunga National Park office and allows any traveler above the age of 15 to trek gorillas.

Gorilla trekking permits grant access to one trek and one hour with the gorillas. The length of the trek may vary, depending on where the gorillas are on any given day. It is possible to book the permits directly from UWA or RDB but the most convenient way is to use a reliable tour operator. Book at least 6 months ahead of travel to ensure availability.

How Much is a Uganda Gorilla Trekking Safari Permit?

The Uganda gorilla trekking permit price is USD 700 per person for foreign nonresidents.  The cost of a gorilla permit in Uganda for foreign residents (with work permits) is USD 600, and East African (EAC) Citizens is UGX 250,000 per person. Rwanda gorilla trekking permit cost USD 1,500 for all visitor categories and it is the most expensive permit for gorilla trekking. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a gorilla permit costs USD 400.

  1. Gorilla Trekking Fitness Preparation

How fit do you need to be for gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda, & Congo? Gorilla trekking in Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo requires a fair fitness level as you will be hiking in humid conditions through thick vegetation and along steep, at times rather muddy, mountain tracks. As with any strenuous activity, the fitter you are on your gorilla trek, the better. However, this does not mean that you need to be super-fit or be able to complete a bench press three times your body weight to go for a Uganda gorilla safari, Rwanda gorilla safari trip, or a Congo gorilla safari trip.  

Also before starting a Rwanda gorilla trek, a Congo gorilla trek, or a Uganda gorilla trekking trip, you’re divided into groups of similar age and fitness levels, and the oldest and least fit people are generally allocated the gorilla family group that is nearest the starting point.

Don’t worry, you won’t be split up from your family members or friends but – obeying the golden rule of hiking – the fastest walkers will have to slow down to the pace of the slowest so that the group stays together safely. The fittest and youngest people will be chosen to find the gorilla family furthest away. Your ranger guide is very experienced in assessing how the group is coping and will stop when necessary for a break, to drink water, admire a view or even have a snack.

Packed lunches contain water and perhaps energy-rich items like roasted cashews or peanuts, bananas, apples, chocolate bars, muffins, small sandwiches or bread rolls, and local treats like ‘rolled eggs’ – a kind of omelet eaten cold.

It’s always easiest to trek Uganda gorillas, Rwanda gorillas, or Congo gorillas in the dry season. In the rainy season, the trek can be tougher as the forest trail be muddy and slippery. Gorillas may also seek refuge from the rain in the nest or trees, making them harder to find and see.

  1. Consider the Packing List for Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Tours

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo involves hiking in wet conditions through thick vegetation and along steep, at times rather muddy, mountain tracks. Therefore, you need to prepare for your gorilla trip by packing essential clothes, shoes, and other gear. And as prepare your gorilla trekking safari packing list, don’t forgettable COVID-19 prevention items.

Best clothes for gorilla trekking/What to wear for gorilla trekking in Africa?

  • Neutral color clothes including greens, greys, and brown to blend in with nature. Camouflage should be avoided- it is illegal for civilians to wear in many areas. And don’t wear animal print as the gorillas may become alarmed at seeing a ‘leopard’, for example.
  • Long trousers and long-sleeved shirts to protect your legs and arms from scratches and bugs.
  • Gardening gloves to help you grab onto plants and branches for support without worrying about hurting your hands.
  • Strong waterproof hiking boots/shoes that provide ankle support.
  • Thin moisture-wicking socks and thicker cotton socks to cover them  to prevent blisters
  • Broad-breamed hat to protect you from strong equatorial sunshine
  • Hooded waterproof jacket
  • Buff to act as a dust mask and keep your neck warm and sweat out of your eyes.
  • A pair of gains to prevent bugs, water, dirt, and pebble from entering into your boot.
  • Face mask

Gear for gorilla trekking

  • UV-filter sunglasses
  • Gaiters to keep water, stones, mud, and sand out your boots
  • Twin trekking poles for balance on uneven grounds
  • Mini first aid kit with antiseptic, plasters & moist towelettes
  • UV-filter sunglasses
  • Water bottle or hip flask. Be sure to keep hydrated, especially at altitude.
  • Camera and extra batteries
  • High SPF sunscreen & bug repellent
  • Microfiber towel for rinsing hand and face

Other essential things to carry for your gorilla trek

  • Hand sanitize
  • Energy-giving snacks for a quick energy boost.
  • Light day pack with a camelback for hands-free hydration. If you are offered the option of a porter to carry your pack, please consider employing (and tipping) him. Many porters are reformed poachers and rely on the income from trekking to support their families (and not slip back into lucrative poaching).

GORILLA TREKKING RULES IN UGANDA, RWANDA, AND CONGO

Before you visit the gorillas

  • If you are sick you cannot visit the gorillas. This is to prevent exposing the gorillas to human diseases that they may not have any resistance to (the permit fees will be refunded).
  • A maximum of 8 people per group is allowed to track one particular gorilla family per day to void behavioral disturbances to the gorillas.
  • The minimum age for gorilla trekking in Rwanda is 15 years. This is because anyone below this age is considered a young and vulnerable person and therefore not fit to trek the gorillas. In most cases, persons below 15 have unpredictable characteristics that may lead to a change in the primates’ behaviors. An example is when a gorilla tries to fume or come near a visitor in the presence of a child, she may decide to run or scream hence disorganizing the gorillas.
  • Always wash your hands when heading into the forest and when out of the forest

On the way to the gorillas

  • Please always speak in a low voice in the forest. This will also enable you to observe other natural treasures in the forest such as birds and other mammals.
  • Don’t throw away garbage in the forest. Whatever you enter into the forest with, must be brought back out when you are living in the forest. This is to preserve the ecology of the park and to avoid the spread of diseases.
  • If you need the toilet whilst in the forest, you must dig a hole at least 30cm deep. This is to avoid the contamination of human germs. Therefore it is important to first go to the toilet before starting the gorilla trek.

When you are with gorillas

  • One encountered, trekkers should not approach the gorillas more closely than 10 meters, a rule often contravened by curious youngsters and sometimes adults approaching their human visitor. In this case, you will need to slowly and calmly move backward to regain the 10 meters distance.
  • Gorillas don’t like flashlights, so flash photography is forbidden since it may cause the gorilla to charge at you. You should also note that gorillas are tricky photographic subjects, on account of their sunken eyes, the gloomy habitat in which they are often found, and the jet black coat that tends to distort light readings. So carrying a tripod or monopod will help you to get sharper results.

It is worth programing your camera to a relatively high ISO (around 800), and pushing it even higher if conditions demand it.

  • It is forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, urinate or defecate in the vicinity of the gorillas. Gorillas can easily can your diseases.
  • Speak in a low voice. However, it’s ok to ask the guide questions
  • Don’t feed gorillas
  • Sometimes the gorillas charge. Follow the instructions of the guide. Don’t run away, it will increase the risk of gorilla chasing you.
  • Don’t touch the gorillas, they are wild animals.
  • If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze when you are near the gorillas, please turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth to minimize the spread of bacteria or germs.
  • Visits are limited to one hour per gorilla group per day. However, if the gorillas become agitated or nervous, the guide will finish the visit early.
  • After the visit, remain silent or speak in a low voice until you reach at least 200 meters away

SOPS FOR GORILLA TREKKING IN UGANDA, RWANDA, AND CONGO DURING COVID

Gorillas share around 98.4% of our DNA and are therefore highly susceptible to many of the viruses that we carry, and coronavirus is no exception. To keep these wonderful primates safe, the Ugandan, Rwanda, and Congo governments have established several safety protocols/Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for gorilla trekking tours:

  1. COVID-19 Gorilla Trekking SOPS For Rwanda

  • Wearing a mask while on a gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is compulsory
  • The maximum number of visitors on a gorilla trek is 6
  • It is possible to book a private gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda for USD 15000
  • Body temperatures will be scanned before you gorilla trek to ensure all visitors are in the recommended temperature range advised by the Ministry of Health
  • If visitors cannot go on a trek for medical reasons, their trekking permits will be refunded.
  1. COVID-19 Gorilla Trekking SOPs For Uganda

  • Travelers on a gorilla safari in Uganda are required to produce proof of negative COVID-19 test results on arriving at Entebbe International Airport (no older than 120 hours) and again at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
  • All trekkers must carry at least two surgical masks, double-layered cloth masks with filters, or N95 masks
  • Mandatory temperature checks and sanitization protocols must be observed
  • A distance of 2 meters (6.5 feet) must be maintained between trekkers
  • The viewing distance is set at 10 meters (33 feet)
  • Carry light equipment to minimize the need for porters.
  1. COVID-19 Gorilla Trekking SOPs For Democratic Republic of Congo

  • All guests will have to have a rapid COVID-19 test before they depart from Goma as well as a negative PCR test certificate. If the results are negative, they will be allowed to proceed on the trek.
  • At the gorilla trek briefing, all guests will have their temperature taken and will be checked for coughing and sneezing.
  • Facemasks are required to be worn during briefings.
  • Before guests leave for a gorilla trek, all guests and rangers are requested to wash their hands.
  • Before entering the forest, all guests will be requested to use hand sanitizer and put on new facemasks that will be provided.
  • Whilst walking into the forest and before finding the gorillas, guests are requested to maintain a 1.5-meter distance between the next person in front or behind.
  • Normal gorilla trek protocols will also apply with the exception that a facemask will not be allowed to be removed or lowered at any time during the gorilla trek.
  • A 10-meter distance should always be maintained from the gorillas.
  • Bring your facemasks and hand sanitizer.

CHANCES OF SEEING GORILLAS IN A RWANDA, CONGO, AND UGANDA GORILLA TREKKING SAFARI

Because mountain gorillas are so closely monitored, and either researchers or trackers are in touch with them every day, guides know more or less where the different families are, and you probably have a 99% chance of seeing them. Of course, there are no guarantees with wild animals, and an overnight thunderstorm or an unexpected encounter with a predator may cause a troop to move unexpectedly in a completely different direction, but scouts will likely pick up their trail again soon. It is very seldom that travelers don’t find the apes during a gorilla trekking expedition.

BEST TIME TO GO GORILLA TREKKING IN UGANDA, RWANDA & CONGO

The best time to go gorilla trekking is during dry seasons, although a gorilla safari can be undertaken at any time of year. Rwanda and Uganda share common weather and climate with both having two dry seasons. The first dry season runs from about the middle of December to the end of February and the second dry season from early June to September. These times of the year offer comfortable gorilla trekking adventures. However, conditions are still very humid and wet in the gorilla parks with plenty of mud, so don’t forget your gaiters!

Also, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a year-round gorilla trekking destination. But as you plan your Congo gorilla safari tour, note that that rain is an essential component of the Congo Basin’s tropical rainforest’s unique ecology, and the country’s seasons are properly defined as wet, wetter, and wettest. The ‘low rainfall’ season, which goes from June to September, and the ‘gentle rainfall’ season, which runs from December to February, are the best times to go gorilla trekking in Congo. July and August are generally the least rainy and coolest months of the year.

IS GORILLA TREKKING IN UGANDA, RWANDA, AND CONGO SAFE?

Gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is safe. Regardless of their size, fearsome appearance, and unfair reputation, gorillas are not dangerous creatures. All Gorilla treks are done in the company of expert local ranger guides who spend most of their time with the mountain gorillas. Also, the gorilla families you are allowed to visit are those which have been habituated to the presence of a human, meaning they are used to having people near them and understand they are generally not a threat.

Mountain gorillas are typically shy and gentle, usually spending the majority of their time feeding and looking after their young. However, like any other wild animal, gorillas can show defensive behaviors if they feel threatened or uneasy, especially around their young ones.

Your expert ranger guide can recognize the signs; which may include mock charging, aggressive chest-beating, and grunting. You are advised to always follow your guide’s instructions, however, if faced with an aggressive gorilla, crouch down, look away and try to act relaxed. You will be advised by your guide further during the gorilla trekking briefing.

OTHER ACTIVITIES YOU CAN DO BEFORE OR AFTER YOUR GORILLA TREK IN UGANDA, RWANDA & DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

  1. Other Uganda Wildlife Safari Experiences

Besides Mountain gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, this landlocked East African country features 8 other national parks, 12 wildlife game reserves, a variety of forest reserves and is a strong contender for one of the world’s best bird-watching destinations.

You can visit Kibale Forest National Park, a magnificent tropical rainforest that supports Africa’s highest diversity and density of primates including Africa’s biggest population of common chimpanzees. It is the best place in the world to track and see chimpanzees in their natural habitat and is also a haven for birders.

You can visit Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kidepo Valley National Park, Lake Mburo National Park, and Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary for classic big game viewing including rhinos, elephants, buffalos, ground-dwelling lions, tree-climbing lions, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hippos, hyenas, Cheetahs, and numerous antelopes.

Uganda also features several fantastic mountain hiking/climbing destinations including the Rwenzori Mountains Africa’s highest mountain range rising to 5109 meters with snow-capped peaks. The country is also home to Lake Victoria – Africa’s largest lake, and the source of the Nile Riverthe world’s longest river. You can enjoy world-class white-water rafting and river cruises along the Nile as you view waterbirds, hippos, and crocodiles. Uganda is a wonderful destination for bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts and a safari to Uganda can easily be combined with a safari to Kenya, Rwanda, Congo, or Tanzania for a holistic East African safari experience.

  1. Other Rwanda Wildlife Safari Experiences

Not only are you able to trek gorillas in Rwanda, but you can also combine your Rwanda gorilla tour with close-up encounters with Africa’s iconic Big Five – Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo, and Rhino. Lions in 2015 were released in Akagera National Park, followed by the Eastern black rhinoceros 2 years later. As a result of these successful reintroduction programs, Akagera became a celebrated Big Five Rwanda safari destination for the first time in almost 20 years.

Rwanda is also home to the primate-filled Nyungwe Forest National Park where there are chimpanzees, fantastic bird-watching opportunities, and super canopy walk adventure.  And the beautiful Lake Kivu is a gorgeous expanse of water surrounded by Rwanda’s gently rolling slopes – in fact, Rwandans call their home ‘the country of a thousand hills, because of its undulating landscape. Kivu is a great place for relaxation, boating, hiking, and kayaking.

  1. Other Congo Wildlife Safari Experiences

gorilla trekking in Congo Uganda Rwanda

The Okapis in Congo

A gorilla safari to Congo can also be packaged with very different Congo safaris and wildlife experiences. The country is home to unique wild animals in Bonobos/pygmy chimpanzees in Salonga National Park and Okapi (with similar stripes to those of Zebras yet more closely related to giraffes) in Okapi Wildlife Reserve. These animals only live in DR Congo in the wild in the whole world.

Congo is also home to the unique Forest Elephants, African bush elephant, Cape Buffalos, Forest buffalos, Lions, Leopards, Chimpanzees, Hippos, Topis, African Civet, African golden wolf, Banded Mongoose, Blue duiker, Bohor reedbuck, Bushbuck, Greater Kudu, Giant forest hog, Oribi, Spotted and many more which combine to make the wildlife safaris in Congo memorable.

The wildlife safaris in Congo also present an unmatchable exploration of the Congo River – the world’s second-largest river in terms of discharge after the Amazon and the world’s deepest river with adventure Tiger Fishing experience. The famous Virunga Volcanoes to the East of Congo are part of these wildlife safari packages and the popular Nyiragongo Volcano climbing is always availed to enable one to explore the world’s largest and most violent lava lake.

Are you ready to begin planning your gorilla trekking safari in Uganda, Rwanda, or Congo?

Gorillas are endangered the treks are carefully regulated in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and Congo’s Virunga National Park, and Kahuzi Biega National Park.

Gorilla permits are not easy to secure and expensive and traveling to such a remote gorilla trekking destination and ensuring the best chances for a successful gorilla trekking tour needs the kind of direct experience and local knowledge that you get from an African safari expert. You can get in touch with us to plan your Uganda gorilla safari, Rwanda gorilla tour, or gorilla trekking tour to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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